Whew. It’s been a while. A lot has happened. And a lot hasn’t.
Like most of us, I started the year with plans for getting fitter, faster, and more mindful. And like many of us, those plans didn’t quite pan out. But, I think I’ve made the best of those disruptions even if I still feel like I’ve plateaued with my growth as a cyclist (and even backtracked in some ways).
Maybe part of getting on in years is realizing how much is beyond us and how much is behind us (and hopefully how much is in front of us).
The other day I was riding in Myles Standish State Forest in Massachusetts, which in many ways represented a different kind of riding than I’ve been doing in Louisiana. First, while most wouldn’t call it a hilly ride, after a steady diet of flatter than flat riding, it was hilly. And twisty. And a bit chilly. And then I got off the road and onto what may have been a paved bike or just a walking path. It was twisty. And bumpy. And fun. It reminded me a bit of mountain biking. Rather than requiring steady effort with peaks of power, the trail require short bursts of moderate effort followed by some coasting, but not the dumb coasting of a long straight downhill on the road. Instead the coasting or low effort moments required some technical skill–tight turns, off camber turns, lumpy pot hole type avoidance, etc. Sure there were no real obstacles–no logs, no patches of shifting surface, but still it brought back good memories of mountain biking from the 1990s.
And then I got back on the road, with its rollers, descents that did more require coasting, etc. I enjoyed both. At no time was I really looking at my GPS for speed, or cadence, or power. (But yeah I did look at them later on Strava). The ride was a good break from being focused on power numbers (see below) and since it was a solo ride, it was a good break from having to be so focused on the group dynamic. I could focus a bit more on the scenery and the road.
The trip (and in part my plan on taking some time off from Louisiana and coming back to Massachusetts was to try and rediscover and explore new kinds of cycling) reminded me how much I like cycling and how challenging it can be. So far it’s mirrored my year. I haven’t done everything I planned to do, gave up on some of the plans before I even left Louisiana, and am feeling like I’m doing a good job of adjusting my plans as I go with an eye to focusing as much to the day to day, week to week actions, as I am to the overall goal or plan (lose weight, increase my FTP, etc.). The trip will also challenge my abilities to say no, to guard my time, and take care of myself in the midst of family obligations–challenges that will help me grow and be able to say no, guard my time, and take care of myself when I get back to Louisiana and its demands.
And the trip helps me focus on investing in experiences and actions over gear. Earlier in the year I purchased a power meter. For a few months it was interesting to look at the data, but I didn’t do much with it–it was threatening to be another investment in things rather than me. Then I decided to get a bike fit and really invest in the riding aspect, the fitness aspect of riding (strangely this insight was preceded by getting spit out of the group about three quarters of lap into a race). A few weeks ago I created some workouts for my GPS unit and started doing them 2-3 times a week and riding with the local group less. So far so good–I noticed myself riding stronger a few weeks into the plan. And riding in specific power zones has reminded me how much cycling is about the ability to focus and not focus at the same time. That is to focus on the power number, on the feelings it produces in my legs, my lungs, my heart, and overall body, but how to not focus too much on those pleasant and not so pleasant feelings because I know they’ll end. And the trainer power workouts regime is making me realize how much I’ve let the demands of the group, the demands of the world, dictate my cycling and thus my fitness.
So while I might not be able to set up the trainer and work on my FTP in as a structured manner as I was at home, I know that once I get back to Louisiana it will be hot and I won’t want to ride outside as much and I’ll be ok with the trainer. In the meantime, I get to ride some hills, around trees, and in weather that isn’t trying to kill me. Riding in some hills has helped me apply the focus not focus mindset from the trainer–telling myself to ignore the hill while paying attention to it. Several times near the end of the ride, I found myself reminding myself that the hill never rides as bad as it looks–that it flattens out.